Don’t ignore secondary infertility: NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week)

I know this blog is usually 99.99% photography related, but it just came to my attention that it is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), which is something I never knew existed.  It appears that it was created in 1989 to “raise awareness about the disease of infertility and encourage the public to understand their reproductive health.” Maybe I never knew about it before because it never affected me before.  I’ve been wanting to share my story and personal journey for a while now, but just couldn’t find the courage or the right moment… until now.  NIAW seems as good a time as any!

Those of you who know me must be wondering what I’m talking about… I have a beautiful 2.5 year old son named Maximilian, born on Halloween in 2009.  We decided in 2008 that we were ready to have children (having been together since high school, married for 2 years already, and 24 years old at this point).  Then, it only took 4 months and voila!  We were pregnant!  Doesn’t seem fair, right?  It was so easy.  So how could I be affected by infertility now?  Maximilian was born via cesarean section after hours of laboring and pushing (read his birth story here).  I never knew what a profound impact a c-section would have on our ability to have more children, and what an emotional roller coaster it would be.

We started ‘unofficially’ trying (i.e., not not trying) for more children when Max was just a few months old because it’s always been one of our dreams to have a big family… so why not keep the momentum going!? :)  Almost exactly a year ago, when Max was 18-months old, we got pregnant!  Found out on Cinco de Mayo, actually.  And, of course, we were ecstatic!  Took about a year from when we decided to start trying… a bit longer than the first go around, but not entirely surprising since I was still breastfeeding Max.  Then, on May 16th, the day my husband was supposed to start a new job, we had a miscarriage.  We were completely devestated and it just shook up our entire world.

We spent a lot of time healing after that, and asked a lot of ‘why’ questions.  A lot of other women I talked to who also had a miscarriage at one point, assured me that we would likely be pregnant again in no time.  While I was fine with a little bit of time passing first to continue the emotional and physical healing process of losing that baby, I was definitely still anxious to keep growing our family.  And then there was month after month of negative pregnancy tests.  By the time Christmas rolled around, I decided that it was finally time to seek help and soon after learned about secondary infertility.  It’s an emotional roller coaster for sure, and it’s hard not to permanently give up… I’ve even sought out ways to cope with secondary infertility, sometimes assuming that this is something I will never overcome.  Did you know that secondary infertility affects more than 3 million Americans (making it more common than primary infertility)?

This is when I got in touch with another local yoga mama here in Austin, Liz Shri.  She is a wealth of knowledge and information of all things fertility-related.  Not only did I get to partake in her wonderful 3-month Yoga for Fertility course earlier this year with a group of other beautiful women on their own fertility journey, but she also got me in touch with two other women who now play an incredibly important role in my life.  One is my acupuncturist Dixie Hornby of the Tao Health Clinic.  I see her for weekly treatments to enhance my fertility, and she makes sure I’m taking the right combination of Chinese herbs to further assist.  She’s also a therapist extraordinaire, frequently allowing me to vent and guiding back to my grounded, centered self.

The next woman is Charlotte Westbrook, a clinical massage therapist who is a certified practitioner of The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Massage (MAM).  What Charlotte taught me and continues to do for me every month is invaluable.  I met with her for the first time in January of this year.  I highly recommend her (if you’re in the Austin, TX area… otherwise, I encourage you to look up a practitioner in your city!) to everyone needing any sort of abdominal work done (could be digestion, fertility, scarring from a c-section or other abdominal surgery, etc.)… her work is also very helpful for hormonal balance (think PMS and menopause), among SO many other benefits (please see her website for more info).

I really recommend someone like Charlotte for anyone (like myself) who has had a c-section, especially if you think you may be suffering from secondary infertility issues.  Little did I know, that when the doctor puts your uterus back “in place” following a Cesarean delivery, how carefully and WHERE they place it can have a HUGE impact on the healing and proper functioning down the line.  A ‘normal’ uterus has enough space on all sides of it to be able to get the nutrients and blood flow that it needs.  Apparently, my own uterus was placed shifted down toward my left hip bone, and thus the top of the uterus attached itself to the tissue in that area (causing frequent pain near my incision area), but ALSO (and Charlotte said this was unusual) the bottom of it attached in an area near my coccyx or tailbone area (which explains the intense pain I get there from time to time!).  And come to find out from the International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology), c-sections cause infertility (and, no surprise, emotional trauma as well) in 1 in 3 women!  Why don’t doctors tell you about these sorts of risks up front???  And why are the rates for c-sections on the rise!?  The more it rises, the higher the number of women will experience secondary infertility and emotional trauma.

Not only is my uterus not getting proper blood flow and nutrients, but the shift in weight with it being out of place is also causing my hips to be slightly out of alignment.  So the fact that my uterus has attached itself to tissue in not one but two places in my abdomen has really been working against me in a variety of ways, and yes, this was the reason for my miscarriage last year and our inability to get pregnant since then (a.k.a. secondary infertility).  It is hindering ideal conception and fetus growing conditions.  If I were to carry a baby now with my uterus in this position, my pregnancy would likely be much more painful, and the movement of the baby as it grows may very well help detach my uterus from the tissue areas (which needs to happen anyway, but that would be a WAY more painful way for it to happen).

So now the amazing and brilliant Charlotte is working with me 1-2 times a month to get my uterus back where it should be and detach it from the tissue it attached itself to when it was placed back in my abdomen following my c-section.  She also taught me some great self-care massage techniques to do at home in between our sessions, in addition to using castor oil packs at the beginning of my cycles.  I even did an amazing tandem session with Charlotte and her friend Hayley.  Hayley did Chakra work on me greatly assisting me with my emotional trauma related to my miscarriage, while Charlotte did her MAM work.  It was one of the single most amazing experiences of my life!

The good news with alllll of this work that I’ve been doing for months, is that it seems to be working!  Charlotte said my uterus is much more ‘mobile’ now as she works with it (it’s all external massage), and there seem to be little to no adhesions still holding it out of place.  However, it’s still going to take quite some time to try to ‘convince’ my uterus to sit upright and centered in it’s proper position, instead of off to the side.  Pretty amazing stuff, though, eh!? (UPDATE 05.03.12: I’ve seen Charlotte twice in the last 2 weeks and we made AMAZING leaps forward! She was able to center my uterus, so now we’re working on the surrounding ligaments and helping those adjust to the new positioning!). :)

Charlotte said it typically takes between 3-5 sessions to begin to see results, and I’ve already had 4 sessions.  I have two more coming up this month.  One website I came across reported as much as a 50% success rate for natural conception when women experiencing fertility problems receive MAM treatments.  Another website reported success rates around just 30%.  All I can think is, “And may the odds be ever in your favor.” Sorry… small inside joke because I became truly obsessed with reading The Hunger Games trilogy as a means for distraction during my fertility journey. ;)

My adventures with yoga to enhance my fertility (in addition to my regular yoga practice), acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and Mayan Abdominal Massage, are really only the tip of the iceberg with allllll of the myriad of other things my husband and I are trying to enhance our fertility (hey, it’s a two-way street!).  We’re talking herbs, vitamins, castor oil packs, teas, foods, etc.  The list goes on. :)

As I mentioned before, the emotional aspect of all of this is brutal.  Some days you feel ‘double rainbow‘ high and are untouchably happy (and more determined than ever to become a mom (again)).  Other days, you kind of feel like a useless being with no womanhood left because you are unable to conceive and bear (more) children.  Then you watch your friends, relatives, and acquaintances (and everyone in between!) show up pregnant left and right.  While you’re completely thrilled for them, it’s also a slightly painful reminder at the same time of what you’re ever so longing for.  The chakra work I did with Hayley greatly improved my emotional stance in this arena, though, and I am forever grateful to her for that… because who doesn’t want to be happy and help someone celebrate new life!?  It’s a true miracle and deserves to be celebrated.

So what did I learn from all of this?  I learned that sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and educate yourself (especially when your own doctor doesn’t give you the full scoop).  I didn’t even know that ‘secondary infertility’ was a real thing!  And now I feel that all of this information is just much too valuable to not share.  I didn’t even know MAM therapy existed until Liz suggested it.  I was tired of hearing my (former) obstetrician say, “well, a lot of stuff just shifted down there when you gave birth, and with time it’ll get back in place.” I won’t go into the details of what was ‘off’ before I started getting this work done, but let’s just say a LOT!  All doctors with patients who undergo a c-section should almost immediately refer them to an abdominal massage therapist to help her anatomy properly heal.  I wish I had found all of these wonderful practitioners sooner, but I finally feel completely blessed to now have this support network of amazing women who are helping me find proper care, and helping me heal.  And I am beyond blessed to have the most amazing and supportive husband in the world, too.  Without him, this journey would cease to exist.

I’ve also learned that if/when I’m lucky enough to be blessed with another child, I want a completely different birthing experience.  I know I’m already going to receive resistance from the get-go since I’ll be going for a VBAC, but I’m prepared to seek out the proper resources to make it happen for me.  I think unnecessary interventions during my labor played a huuuge role in the need for my c-section, so next time I’ll be more informed and ready to stand up for what my primal instincts are telling me are right and needed.  And you should, too.  Whether or not you already have a baby, do you want to risk secondary infertility if you’re hoping for another?

Educate yourself.  Educate others.  Support those in need.  Stand up for an important and often overlooked issue.  It may be affecting more woman (and men!) in your life than you think.

I’m determined to become a mother again to a biological child (but adoption is not out of the question either)… But if not, this quote (a favorite of the ladies in my fertility class) by Alice Domar reassures me: ”You will be happy again.  Life will become joyful again.  And somehow, some way, if you want to become a parent, you will.”